Thomas Hartshorn demonstrated Friday night what can happen when preparation meets opportunity.
Hartshorn is a 6-foot, 185-pound outside linebacker at Middle Creek and he recovered four fumbles in the Mustangs 56-21 Southwest Wake 4A Conference victory against Athens Drive.
Athens fumbled five times and Hartshorn fell on two of them and picked up two others.
I think it was opportunity, of course, but also preparation, Hartshorn said. I happened to be in the right place at the right time, but we work on recovering fumbles every day in practice. Thats something we concentrate on.
The N.C. High School Athletic Association does not have a record for the most fumbles recovered in a game, but Hartshorns four tied for No.9 on the all-time national list maintained by the National Federation of State High School Associations.
If submitted to the NCHSAA, Hartshorns four recoveries likely will be established as the record.
Hartshorn is a hard hitter and is in his third season as a linebacker starter, but he didnt knock the ball loose on any of his recoveries.
On the first recovery, the Athens quarterback and runner mishandled the exchange. The ball went to the ground and Hartshorn jumped on it.
Minutes later, Athens was running a reverse to Hartshorns side and the ball came loose on the exchange again. Again, Hartshorn jumped on the loose ball.
Were trained that if there are people in the area to get to the ground quickly and cover the ball, he said. If there are people around, you dont try to scoop the ball. Just get on it.
In the third quarter, a snap eluded the Athens quarterback. Hartshorn was rushing him on the play and was close enough to get to the ball and scoop it up. He ran about 7 yards to the end zone.
We work on picking up the ball and scoring, too, Hartshorn said. We want to be a defense that creates big plays. We want to score.
Hartshorn almost scored on his fourth recovery. He scooped the ball after another errant snap and headed for the end zone. He was hit and the ball came loose as he tried to extend it over the goal line. Senior teammate Will Floyd recovered the ball for the touchdown.
The team works on how to scoop and run and what to do if a pass is intercepted.
You want to block the intended receiver quickly, Hartshorn said. He makes the tackle on about 75 percent of the interceptions. You get him blocked and the man with the interception runs toward the sidelines. Your mindset changes as soon as we create a turnover.
Middle Creek has returned three fumbles for touchdowns, blocked three punts for touchdowns and recorded a safety this year.
The Mustangs are taught how to react to turnovers, but the bulk of their time in practice is devoted to other things.
The biggest things for us are reading our keys, doing our assignments and making the tackle, he said. Thats what playing defense is always about. But if we ever get a chance to make a big play, score some points, we know what were supposed to do.